Why Fatah and Hamas won’t reconcile

The latest episode of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation saga is not a step closer to a unity government, analysts say.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh shakes hands with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah at Haniyeh''s house in Gaza City
Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya (R) and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah meet in Gaza city in 2014 [Reuters]

The latest episode of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation saga is by no means a step closer to a unified government and an end to a 10-year political schism, analysts say.

On Sunday, Hamas pledged to dissolve its administrative committee which runs the Gaza Strip and expressed its willingness to hold general elections in a bid to reconcile with its rival Fatah political party in the occupied West Bank.

Hamas used the committee to run the internal affairs of the Gaza Strip, after accusing the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority (PA) of neglecting to do so.

In turn, the PA accused Hamas of using this administrative committee, which was announced in March, as a “shadow government” to further entrench political division and derail the prospect of a unity government.

Palestinians wave Fatah and Hamas flags after the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza [AFP] 
Palestinians wave Fatah and Hamas flags after the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza [AFP] 

Although the dissolution of the administrative committee was packaged as a step towards reconciliation and hailed by politicians as such, experts on the ground say it was no more than a public relations stunt in the power struggle between the two parties.

“This whole issue of dissolving the administrative committee has no value. Even if it is dissolved, there must be another kind of committee that can run the daily and civil lives of people in the Gaza Strip,” Abdulsattar Qassem, a political science professor at the an-Najah University in Nablus, told Al Jazeera.

“When Hamas said it will dissolve the administrative committee, it threw the ball into the Palestinian Authority’s yard, in the sense that they have acquiesced to their demands, so now what will the PA do for Hamas? It’s a tit for tat, a barter,” added Qassem.

READ MORE: Hamas ready to reconcile with Fatah: reports

On Tuesday, the PA’s Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced that he will visit the Gaza Strip to meet Hamas officials.

Alaa Tartir, programme director at the Al-Shabaka Palestinian think-tank, told Al Jazeera: “Hamas wanted to put the ball in Abbas and Fatah’s court before heading to the UN and before meeting Trump so that they remain a key actor in the political equation.

“Abbas and Fatah are expected now to offer something in return.”

The last Palestinian unity government agreement was signed by the two factions in the summer of 2014, a month before Israel launched its deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip. The 52-day war severely damaged the besieged Strip’s already weak infrastructure and killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians.

The unity government, which was effectively opposed by Israel and the United States, was meant to usher in general elections the following year but was not implemented. Subsequent Qatar-brokered attempts to restart talks between Fatah and Hamas yielded no results.

In the last few months, Hamas has been under heavy pressure by PA President Mahmoud Abbas‘ recent measures against Gaza, aimed at pressuring Hamas to relinquish control of the Strip. Punitive measures included cutting the salaries of PA employees living in Gaza and reducing electricity supply to the Strip.

Hamas capitalised on the opportunity afforded by the recent thawing of relations between itself and Egypt, and used the issue of the committee as political leverage against Fatah, in what Tartir describes as a “blame-game”.

“What was being asked of Hamas is to completely give up administration of the Strip, which would mean the end of the movement as an organisation and a military movement,” Belal Shobaki, a Hebron-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

“Based on this, Hamas announced the administrative committee in March … it was Hamas’ attempt to create some new negotiating leverage in talks with Fatah,” added Shobaki.

And while dissolving the administrative committee may mean that the PA would take control of administrative affairs in the Strip, Hamas’ iron fist over security and the economy is unlikely to weaken.

Hamas has been the de-facto ruler in the Gaza Strip since 2007 after the party defeated Abbas’ long-dominant Fatah party in parliamentary elections.

Hamas then pushed Fatah out of the Strip in a bloody conflict when the latter refused to recognise the result of the vote. Hamas and Fatah have ruled the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively ever since.

READ MORE: A guide to the Gaza Strip

Getting rid of the committee has little bearing on implementing the long-awaited national unity government, with issues such as security and the salaries of PA employees in Gaza a point of contention between the two sides.

The issues undermining the prospect of an agreement being reached, says Hamas expert and policy fellow at Al-Shabaka, Tareq Baconi, are still as relevant today as they were during the 2014 reconciliation deal.

“These include the PA’s inability or unwillingness to assume the public burden of Gaza without Hamas relinquishing absolute control, beyond its administrative capacity; Hamas’s refusal to soften its grip on Gaza, particularly over security-related issues; and, perhaps most importantly, Israel’s systematic and aggressive refusal to allow Palestinian unification,” Baconi told Al Jazeera. 

The end game, ultimately, of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas would be general elections for the Palestinians, the last of which took place over a decade ago.

A Palestinian man and children walk past graffiti reading
A Palestinian man and children walk past graffiti reading “division” in Arabic, in Gaza City, in 2017 [AFP]

Pointing out that Abbas’ mandate expired in 2009, Qassem says that there is no legal authority nor legitimate rule in Palestine.

“If Abbas cares about the interests of the Palestinian people, Fatah should announce political elections immediately,” he said.

“However, the one who decides the elections is Israel and the US. As long as Israel and the United States cannot find the right person to enter elections and win, then we will remain without any elections.”

The last time that Palestinians engaged in general elections was in 2006. In a shock result, Hamas, which had entered the elections for the first time since its establishment in 1987, won, delivering a blow to Fatah and more importantly the US, which had pushed for the elections to take place.

In the aftermath of these elections, then senator of New York Hillary Clinton said in leaked recordings, “I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. And if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.”

READ MORE: UN warns of Gaza’s ‘total collapse’ amid power crisis

The possibility of a general election being called in the near future, however, is unlikely due to each factions’ tenacious hold on power in their respective territories.

“Substantial lasting and positive developments can be only realised through an inclusive and participatory political process that neither Fatah nor Hamas are interested in pursuing,” Tartir said.

Qassem attributes the obstacles to a unified government to an older, monumental event in Palestinian history.

The root of the problem, says Qassem, is the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 and 1995 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.

The agreement was meant to lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state through the establishment of an interim Palestinian government – the PA. Yet it also included damning clauses and written deals that gifted Israel complete control of the Palestinian economy, civil and security matters in over 60 percent of the West Bank, and introduced the controversial security coordination between Israel and the PA.

“If one hundred agreements were made and Oslo still existed, these agreements will amount to nothing,” Qassem said.

“Oslo pitted Palestinians against one another. Those who signed the Oslo Accords knew beforehand that this agreement would result in the bloodshed of fellow Palestinians, at the hands of Palestinians.”

Follow Zena Tahhan on Twitter: @zenatahhan
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Source: Al Jazeera